TIME North Korea

Activists Cross Demilitarized Zone Between North and South Korea

The group wants to promote peace and reconciliation between the two sides

An international group of female activists crossed the border between North and South Korea on Sunday to promote peace between the two countries, which have yet to sign a peace treaty 60 years after the Korean War ended.

The group of about 30 women, WomenCrossDMZ, was taken by bus across the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), CNN reports, which was created by a 1953 armistice that halted, but never ended, the Korean War. The crossing was sanctioned by both sides, and included feminist Gloria Steinem and Nobel laureates Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland.

Several groups have criticized the march, arguing that the women should have crossed the North Korea–China border, which is more dangerous than the DMZ. Others called the crossing “empty,” blasting the activists for allowing North Korea an opportunity to cover up its record of human-rights abuses.

Read next: Gloria Steinem’s North Korea Peace Walk Draws Ire Despite Lack of Any Better Ideas

[CNN]

 

TIME North Korea

North Korean Dictator’s Brother Spotted At Eric Clapton Concert

Kim Jong-chul is clearly a big Clapton fan

Footage has emerged that appears to show the older brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un attending two Eric Clapton concerts in London. According to the BBC, Kim Jong-chul has been seen attending Clapton concerts abroad in the past, in Germany and in Singapore.

The video footage filmed by a Japanese television network Wednesday shows a car arriving outside London’s Royal Albert Hall. A man resembling Kim Jong-chul and a woman emerge from inside, both dressed in green leather jackets and sunglasses.

Reporters ask Kim several questions, including about his relationship with his brother, but he does not reply.

A BBC journalist at the same venue the following night said the pair were there again, surrounded by officials. “But he was having a great time, singing along to all the words,” said Simeon Paterson from the BBC.

Kim Jon-chul’s father reportedly overlooked him for the North Korean leadership in 2009. His younger brother Kim Jon-un took over when their father died in Dec. 2011.

TIME North Korea

Gloria Steinem’s North Korea Peace Walk Draws Ire Despite Lack of Any Better Ideas

Remember, the status quo sure ain't working

There’s a lot written about North Korea: reports on the country’s nuclear program, speculation about its leadership, and gossip about its dictator’s hair, height and weight. But parse the streams of text the country generates each week and you’ll notice a word conspicuously missing: peace.

Though the 1950–53 Korean War ended without a treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula divided, the question of peace has faded from view. Exasperated by Pyongyang’s intransigence on nuclear issues, tired of its propagandists’ vitriol, the international community has, for the most part, disengaged. Young South Koreans are less and less interested in their hermit neighbor. The U.S. is all about isolation — and sanctions galore.

The deepening standoff is what inspired a group of 30 female activists, including feminist icon Gloria Steinem, to plan a walk for peace at the border. The plan is to set out on May 24 across the demilitarized zone, or DMZ (which, despite its name, is among the most militarized places on earth). They will walk from the north side to the south, they hope, a gesture meant to break the standoff — symbolically at least.

There are still questions as to whether the women will make it through. They say they’ve been granted permission from authorities on both sides to walk across on May 24, although they are not sure which crossing they will use. They told Reuters that they had yet to hear back from U.N. Command, which runs the Panmunjom crossing. (There are two others.)

While in North Korea, the group’s itinerary includes meeting North Korean women and touring a maternity ward and a factory. The point is to be present, listen and engage, Steinem told the Washington Post in a pre-departure interview. “There is no substitute for putting your bodies where your concerns are,” she said.

Not everybody agrees. In a Post editorial headlined “Empty Marching in North Korea,” Abraham Cooper of Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, blast Steinem and her colleagues for giving North Korea a chance to engage in “human rights theater intended to cover up its death camps and crimes against humanity.”

Responding to an item in TIME about the march, North Korean exile Shin Dong-hyuk (more on him here) also blasted the women for “smiling” at Kim Jong Un’s “evil” face. “How can they so easily find the ability to be comfortable with smiles on their faces to this dictator when so many are suffering at his hands?” we writes on his Facebook page. He wonders, he says, “if these people know the meaning of peace.”

While Cooper, Scarlatoiu and Shin are right to put the spotlight on North Korea’s appalling rights record, it’s quite the leap to say these veteran activists are ignoring it. “We have no illusions that our walk can basically erase the conflict that has endured for seven decades,” Christine Ahn, the Korean-American coordinator, told the press.

The group is pushing for empathy — not for the regime but for those suffering under it. They want to make us care about North Korea by showing us that North Koreans are people, not Hollywood caricatures. Yes, Kim Jong Un could spin this as good press. But surely outside observers will realize that a visit by peace campaigners is not an endorsement of his death camps.

The world needs to stand up to North Korea. Its record on human rights is appalling, its leader cruel. But the current strategy — isolation, condemnation and mockery — is not working. As such, it’s hard to condemn a walk for peace.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Submarine Missile Footage Isn’t Real, U.S. Admiral Says

Photo showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the scene of the alleged missile launch on May 9, 2015.
KCNA/EPA Photo showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the scene of the alleged missile launch on May 9, 2015.

Top military official credits "clever video editors"

Photos showing a North Korean missile launched from a submarine were manipulated by state propagandists, a top U.S. military official said on Tuesday.

North Korea, heavily sanctioned by the United States and United Nations for its missile and nuclear tests, said on May 9 it had successfully conducted an underwater test-fire of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. If true, it would indicate progress in its pursuit of building missile-equipped submarines.

MORE: This is how North Korea’s Government Wants You To See Kim Jong Un

On Wednesday, the North warned Washington not to challenge its sovereign right to boost military deterrence and boasted of its ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads, a claim it has made before and which has been widely questioned by experts and never verified…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME North Korea

Gloria Steinem Joins Female Activists in North Korea for DMZ Peace March

Activist Gloria Steinem, center right, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, center left, along with other delegation, visit Mangyongdae, the birthplace of North Korea's late leader Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Kim Kwang Hyon—AP Activist Gloria Steinem, center right, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, center left, along with other delegation members, visit Mangyongdae, the birthplace of North Korea's late leader Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang on May 20, 2015

"I believe that we are ... breaking through this mental state that this is a permanent division"

An all-female group of peace activists landed in North Korea on Wednesday in the hope of crossing the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to South Korea on May 24, International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament. The women hope crossing the fortified border will signal that Korean reunification is not a distant goal but a realistic possibility.

The WomenCrossDMZ group, which includes noted American feminist Gloria Steinem, will conduct a peace symposium and two walks for peace, according to Reuters.

The women have already begun meeting female North Koreans and are scheduled to visit a women’s factory, maternity hospital and children’s preschool in Pyongyang.

“I believe that we are, basically by crossing the DMZ, breaking through this mental state that this is a permanent division,” said Christine Ahn, the group’s coordinator.

The 1950–53 Korean War terminated in an uneasy truce, leaving South and North Korea officially still at war. The border is dotted with just three checkpoints and crossings remain unusual, but the group secured permission from both countries to hold their event. However, they are currently awaiting permission from the U.N. Command, which controls the Panmunjom border crossing.

Ahn said she was fully aware of the entrenched animosity that persists between the two neighbors. “We have no illusions that our walk can basically erase the conflict that has endured for seven decades,” she added.

[Reuters]

TIME North Korea

U.N. Chief Says North Korea Withdraws Invitation to Visit

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during the 'UN Global Compact - Korea Leaders Summit' event in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, May 19, 2015.
Yun Dong-jin—AP U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during the U.N. Global Compact: Korea Leaders SummiT event in Seoul on May 19, 2015

Because of North Korea's continuation of missile and other weapon tests relations on the peninsula remain strained

(SEOUL) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that North Korea had withdrawn an invitation to visit a factory park in the country, a day after he announced he would travel to the last major cooperation project between the rival Koreas.

Ban said Wednesday he wanted to go the Kaesong industrial park just north of the heavily fortified Korean border on Thursday as part of an effort to help improve ties between North and South Korea, which jointly run the park.

He would have been the first U.N. chief to visit the factory park, which opened in 2004 in the city of Kaesong. He would also have been the first head of the U.N. to visit North Korea since Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993.

Ban told a forum on Wednesday that North gave no reason when it informed the U.N. of its decision to cancel his trip.

“This decision by Pyongyang is deeply regrettable,” Ban said, adding he will spare no effort to encourage the North to work with the international community for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.

Ban’s cancelled trip comes as relations between the Koreas remain strained following the North’s continuation of missile and other weapon tests that South Korea views as provocations. There are also worries about North Korea after South Korea’s spy agency said last week that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had his defense chief executed by anti-aircraft gun fire in late April.

Analysts had said Ban’s trip won’t likely bring any major breakthrough in ties between the two Koreas.

The park opened during a period of warming ties between the Koreas and has been considered a test case for unification, pairing cheap local labor with South Korean know-how and technology.

It has survived periods of animosity, including the North’s artillery bombardment of a South Korean island in 2010, while other cross-border projects, such as tours to a scenic North Korean mountain, remain deadlocked.

In 2013, however, the park’s operations were halted for five months after North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers amid tension over the North’s torrent of threats to launch nuclear attacks on Seoul and Washington.

The complex is a rare, legitimate source of foreign currency for the impoverished North.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

TIME North Korea

Kerry Slams North Korea, Vows Security for South

U.S Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-Se (not pictured) during a joint press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul on May 18, 2015.
Jeon Heon-Kyun—Pool/Getty Images U.S Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-Se (not pictured) during a joint press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul on May 18, 2015.

Kerry assured South Korea of America's "ironclad" commitments

(SEOUL) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday accused North Korea of a litany of crimes and atrocities while reassuring South Korea of America’s “ironclad” security commitments.

Kerry blamed North Korea for continuing to break promises, make threats and “show flagrant disregard for international law” by continuing provocative nuclear and missile activity while oppressing its own people. He said North Korea’s “horrific conduct” must be exposed and vowed to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang to change its behavior, particularly since it has rebuffed repeated attempts to restart denuclearization negotiations.

“They have grown the threat of their program and have acted with a kind of reckless abandon,” Kerry said, referring to North Korea and its leadership, less than a week after South Korea’s spy agency said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his defense chief executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about the young ruler, talking back to him and sleeping during a meeting Kim presided over.

That allegation, if true, adds to concerns about the erratic nature of Kim’s rule, particularly after Pyongyang claimed last weekend it had successfully test-fired a newly developed ballistic missile from a submarine.

Kerry called the reported killing just the latest in a series of “grotesque, grisly, horrendous, public displays of executions on a whim and fancy.” He said that if such behavior continued, calls would grow in the international community for North Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said “the severity of recent threats and provocations” made it essential to bolster the security relationship.

The actions come despite a recent U.S. diplomatic overture to North Korea to discuss resuming denuclearization talks that have been stalled for the past three years. The U.S. quietly proposed a meeting with North Korea in January, before the U.S. and South Korea began annual military exercises that North Korea regards as a provocation. The two sides, however, failed to agree on who could meet and where.

Kerry noted North Korea’s refusal to return to the table, saying “all they are doing now is isolating themselves further and creating greater risks to the region and to their own country.” He said the U.S. remained open to talks but only if “we …. have some indication from the leader of North Korea that they are serious about engaging on the subject of their nuclear program.”

Kerry also expressed hope that the successful conclusion of a nuclear deal with Iran would send a positive message to North Korea to restart negotiations on its own atomic program. Kerry said he believed an Iran agreement could have “a positive influence” on North Korea, because it would show that giving up nuclear weapons improves domestic economies and ends isolation.

“Perhaps that can serve as an example to North Korea about a better way to move, a better way to try and behave,” he said.

International negotiators are rushing to finalize a nuclear deal with Iran by the end of June under which Iran’s program would be curbed to prevent it from developing atomic weapons in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Nuclear talks with North Korea, which has already developed atomic weapons despite previous attempts to forestall it, broke down three years ago as it has continued atomic tests and other belligerent behavior, including ballistic missile launches.

North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 and is now believed to have at least 10 such weapons despite some of the toughest international sanctions in existence. It conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013, and U.S.-based experts forecast that it could increase its nuclear arsenal to between 20 and 100 weapons by 2020.

In addition to talks on issues related to North Korea, Kerry in Seoul will be laying the groundwork for a visit to Washington in June of South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

Kerry is to deliver a speech on cyber security and related issues. Both North Korea and China pose major cyber security challenges. South Korea has faced hacking attacks it has blamed on North Korea, and the United States accuses the North of being behind the massive attack on Sony Pictures last year that resulted in new U.S. sanctions.

Kerry will use the opportunity to lay out U.S. efforts to combat the threats and to stress the importance of a free and open internet, according to U.S. officials.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Reportedly Executes Its Defense Minister for Dozing Off at a Military Event

Senior North Korean military officer Hyon Yong Chol delivers a speech during the 4th Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) in Moscow April 16, 2015.
Sergei Karpukhin—Reuters Senior North Korean military officer Hyon Yong Chol delivers a speech during the 4th Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) in Moscow April 16, 2015.

The execution is the latest in a series of purges against senior North Korean officials

North Korea has reportedly executed its Defense Minister for falling asleep at a military event that was attended by the country’s leader Kim Jong Un, Seoul’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told lawmakers in Seoul.

According to South Korean media on Wednesday, Hyon Yong Chol was charged with treason and executed on April 30 in front of a crowd of hundreds of North Korean officials, reports Reuters.

Hyon, who was chief of the country’s People’s Armed Forces, is also said to have talked back to the North Korean dictator several times.

The South Korean intelligence agency briefed a parliamentary committee about the execution on Wednesday.

Hyon’s execution is the latest in a series of purges against senior officials in the isolated country. Last month, the NIS said Pyongyang had ordered the execution of 15 high-ranking officials for undermining Kim’s leadership.

[Reuters]

TIME North Korea

North Korea Tests Missile in ‘Clear Violation’ of U.N. Resolution

South Korean men pass by a TV news program in Seoul South Korea, showing images published in North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper of a ballistic missile launch and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un
Ahn Young-joon—P South Korean men pass by a TV news program in Seoul South Korea, showing images published in North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper of a ballistic missile launch and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, on May 9, 2015.

The U.S. had hoped to start nuclear talks with North Korea

(WASHINGTON)—North Korea greeted a U.S. diplomatic overture with a fresh show of force, seemingly testing the Obama administration’s resolve for new nuclear talks.

After three years of diplomatic deadlock, the U.S. appears open to preliminary discussions to assess North Korea’s intentions and the prospects of ridding the country of nuclear weapons.

Then came Saturday’s claim that North Korea successfully test-fired a newly developed ballistic missile from a submarine. Not long after that announcement, South Korean officials said the North fired three anti-ship cruise missiles into the sea off its east coast.

The State Department said launches using ballistic missile technology are “a clear violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Washington urged North Korea “to refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations.”

Just this past week, a South Korean envoy had visited Washington and Beijing as countries involved in long-stalled aid-for-disarmament negotiations with the North mulled their diplomatic options.

Even before the latest flexing of the North’s military might, U.S. officials said the North had not shown it was seriously interested in re-engaging on the nuclear issue.

Former senior U.S. official Victor Cha, an expert on North Korea, said he wasn’t sure whether the latest test “will create an impetus for talks or kill it.”

“It shows that North Korea’s missile capabilities are advancing at a clip that is concerning, if not alarming,” he said.

North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. International penalties were intended to prevent the North from obtaining sensitive technology and starve the country of funds. Yet U.S.-based experts forecast that North Korea could increase its nuclear arsenal from at least 10 weapons today to between 20 and 100 weapons by 2020.

North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear power. But a denuclearized Korean Peninsula is the aim of the negotiating process that China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. say they want to revive if North Korea takes concrete steps to show good faith.

The last public U.S. attempt to negotiate a nuclear freeze and get the six-party process restarted collapsed in 2012 after the North launched a long-range rocket.

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013, and has test-fired numerous shorter-range missile since then.

The U.S. quietly proposed a meeting with North Korea this January, before the U.S. and South Korea began annual military exercises that North Korea regards as a provocation. The two sides, however, failed to agree on who could meet and where.

The recent completion of those military exercises offers a potential window of opportunity for engagement that is likely to close again when a new set of drills begin in August.

China, North Korea’s traditional benefactor, has pushed for resumption of dialogue. South Korean envoy Hwang Joon-kook, who met separately with his U.S. and Chinese counterparts this past week, said all five parties were ready for talks to understand North Korea’s intentions and whether it was committed to denuclearization.

The U.S. was willing to be flexible about a format for “serious dialogue” on denuclearization, a senior U.S. official said. The official was not authorized to be named and requested anonymity to discuss U.S.-North Korea policy.

TIME North Korea

North Korean Official Threatens Nuke Strike If U.S. ‘Forced Their Hand’

Participants of the 5th Conference of the Training Officers of the Korean People's Army greet Kim Jon Un (not pictured), in a photo released on May 1, 2015.
KCNA/Xinhua Press/Corbis Participants of the 5th Conference of the Training Officers of the Korean People's Army greet Kim Jon Un (not pictured), in a photo released on May 1, 2015.

"We're a major power politically, ideologically and militarily," he said

A senior North Korean figure said his country has the capability to strike the mainland United States with nuclear weapons and would do so if the U.S. “forced their hand.”

In an rare interview with U.S. media, Park Yong Chol told CNN that his country’s investment in nuclear arms was worth the cost of Western sanctions. “This strategic decision was the right one,” he said.

Park, who is the deputy head of the country’s Institute for Research into National Reunification, a government-tied think tank, denied United Nations reports of brutal camps for political prisoners and said that reports from South Korean intelligence that dictator Kim Jong Un had personally ordered the execution of more than a dozen officials this year amounted to “malicious slander.”

He also said that his country plans to become a world economic powerhouse.

“We’re a major power politically, ideologically and militarily,” he said. “The last remaining objective is to make the DPRK a strong economic power.”

[CNN]

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